CAICE Outreach

When the odds are against you: thriving in higher education STEM as an undocumented Hispanic woman

Written By: Stephanie Mora Garcia, PhD Candidate @ UCSD

Today my identity includes many aspects of which I am proud; and at the top of the list is inquisitive scientist.

However, this was not always the case.

When I turned 16, I began to identify mostly as an undocumented girl who belonged to an underrepresented group who also happened to be in a low -income community and I did not feel good about it. Now, although those things are still a part of my identity, they are just one part and I’ve realized that I cannot be defined by any one aspect of my identity.

Selfie of me in the lab.

I am currently in a prestigious graduate program where I study cutting-edge science and this experience is beyond fulfilling, but getting here was not easy.

Applying to undergraduate institutions was the first time I experienced extra difficulty doing things that my classmates were doing. The process had an added level of difficulty as the portal for the financial side of things for undocumented students was different than that of my classmates which made asking questions to those around me not an option. Though the teachers tried to help me, they also had not seen the portal before and so I felt isolated in the process.

This trend of uncertainty and feeling like I was alone in the application processes continued when I was applying to PhD.

The rarity of people with my situation applying to graduate school was made apparent when the professors that I asked for help for had no answers for me. When I called the prospective institutions asking for clarification for my exact case they had to transfer me to 5+ people to finally get an answer, and even when I picked a school and began the paperwork, nobody seemed to know how processing my payments would work.

Another part of this process that was made more difficult because of my undocumented status was talking about funding with the Principal Investigators (PIs). I had to let them know that if they did not have funding for me already, I would have to work as a Teaching Assistant through the entirety of my program as I am not eligible to apply to most grants. Although all PIs were willing to have this conversation openly with me, it was stressful because I never knew how they would receive the information.

Having to navigate through higher education being undocumented has been difficult but it has not been the only source of hardships.

Being a Hispanic woman in science and coming from a low-income background has shaped the experiences that I have had in college and graduate school.

When I got to my undergraduate institution, I began my first quarter in calculus 1 as most science majors do. I had heard from teachers that the course would be difficult, but I had no experience with it because calculus was not offered at my high school. I am not sure if it wasn’t offered because of budget constraints or other reasons, but prior to beginning college I was not aware that the education I was receiving was at a lower level than most people who would begin college at the same time as me.

This difference in pre-college education ended up playing a large role in my experience in higher education.

Going back to that calculus class, I remember sitting in class learning about derivatives for the first time and being beyond confused; my classmates were all participating in discussions and I was struggling to understand what was said 10 minutes prior. This trend continued when I took my first robotics, coding, and physics courses.

I remember thinking that I was the problem and that I was not cut out for a career in STEM.

I would like to say that I got over this mentality two years into college, but in reality, I still have to remind myself that I have not had the same opportunities as my peers and colleagues. As you can imagine, this has led to a constant battle with imposter syndrome. To add to this, being a first-generation college student and a Hispanic woman also contributed to having reservations on my potential as a scientist.

It is great to know that women in science are beginning to be more represented but that is not the case for women of color in science. In my studies as an undergraduate, I only had one female chemistry professor and one person of color as a professor – a man.

Volunteering with fellow students at the ‘All Hands On’ outreach event at UCSD

All my professors were great and tried to encourage chemistry majors to pursue a graduate degree, but I was never really inspired when they tried to use their personal stories as motivational points. It is difficult to envision yourself having the same successful end when it seems like nobody in your position has been able to do so before.

Luckily, I had a professor at my undergraduate institution who not only saw my love for science, but more importantly, listened when I recounted the experiences that had brought my confidence down and when I expressed my worries with regards to applying to graduate school.

Through these conversations I began to feel like my professor believed that I would do well in graduate school which was vital in how I saw my own potential to succeed. I also realized that I would not be able to change my past experiences but that they did not have to define my experiences going forward. I became aware that my potential and drive to do well in graduate school is up to me and part of what has helped my journey is seeing things in a brighter light.

Proud moment graduating from college

In hindsight, navigating through higher education being undocumented has only made me grateful for the people who have helped me and it has given me the desire to help students who may be experiencing any sort of similar disadvantages.

I am beyond grateful for the professor who helped me with the process of applying to graduate school as he also helped me gain confidence as a scientist.

It was in conversations with him when I realized my identity sounds more like a curious scientist who also happens to have experienced disadvantages due to factors out of her control. I have also found that if I seek help from individuals, most are more than willing to help.

Also, now that I am past a lot of the harder times, I see myself as a resource that younger students can use to make their experience a little better.

I have helped my sister, cousins, children of my parent’s coworkers, mentees that I have been appointed through university resource centers, and friends of friends; all of whom are struggling with similar barriers to what I have experienced in the last 8 years.

I do this because I want them to have a successful future; I want them to identify as future scientists, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals who also happen to have had to manage other identifiers in their pursuit of higher education.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

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CAICE Outreach

So the CDC has recommended wearing cloth masks. Here’s why and what you can do.

Written By: Jeanette McConnell, PhD

The CDC has recommended “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” 

This is the latest in health and safety recommendations that the CDC have shared since the spread of SARS-CoV-2 began.

Which means that in addition to wearing a mask you should also be… 

  1. Staying home as much as possible. Only go out for essential business. 
  2. Washing your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds. 
  3. Not touching your face with unwashed hands. 

Some vocab: SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the specific type of coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. 

Prior to this mask wearing recommendation, the CDC was clear that the virus can be transmitted via droplets when a person who is infected coughs or sneezes. This droplet could unwittingly shoot right into your mouth or nose but more likely it will settle onto a surface and then you could touch that surface and then touch your face and become infected too. 

This is still all correct. 

The new mask wearing guideline comes as additional information about how the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be transmitted was communicated to the CDC. Data shows that the virus can be spread not only via droplets but also via aerosols. 

The virus can become aerosolized and linger, floating in the air, where an infected person was merely breathing, talking, coughing or sneezing. They can also travel further than the 6ft social distancing guideline and linger in the air for an extended period of time from minutes to hours.

It important to note that the dose or exposure time required to become infected via the virus in aerosols is not yet known.

But the closer and longer you are near someone shedding the virus the more likely you are to breathe it in. Wearing a mask can limit how much virus an infected person emits and how much a non-infected person breathes in.

Image source:

Remember, aerosols are tiny bits of solids & liquids that become suspended in the air. They are usually microscopic and cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Wearing a cloth mask is a way to decrease the likelihood that you will breathe in any droplets or aerosols that contain SARS-CoV-2. It also decreases the likelihood that you will pass the virus to someone else if you are asymptomatic. Help yourself and help others!
There are many easy ways and many different types of materials to make a mask out of, but some are more protective than others. Check out this page and graph that compare different types of materials ability to filter out droplets and aerosols.

Image source:

** Remember you do not need a N95 mask. These are currently in short supply and it is vital that our health care workers who are caring for our loved ones with COVID-19 have these masks. 

The CDC has some examples and guides for making different versions of a cloth mask here. There are guides for no-sew masks and masks that require a sewing machine. 

Additionally, our Education, Outreach & Diversity Coordinator wants to share with you the masks that she made at home as an example of how you can make a mask to protect yourself and others when you have to venture out of the safety of your home. 

Steps to make and use a homemade face mask.

Every time the seawater crashes, tons of air bubbles are produced. Bubbles bursting onto the water surface “explode” and leave behind tiny droplets. Some of them, smaller than a

  1. She used this pattern and video tutorial. We will go through the steps below in addition to the video and written resources that exist on the above linked page. 
  1. Cut out your pattern! Choose a tight woven but breathable fabric. Something like a pillowcase or button up shirt fabric is good. Be sure to leave a seam allowance when cutting out your fabric pieces. 

3. Sew your pattern. Follow the instructions on the page linked above for the pattern shown in the photo. If using your own pattern be sure to leave an opening to insert the HEPA filter.

4. Use an air filter or vacuum bag filter as the HEPA filter. You just need to carefully unfold the filter and then cut it to size. If there are little bits of glue on the filter, carefully peel them off.

5. Insert the HEPA filter into the pocket you made in the mask.

6. You can then attach strings to tie the mask on or you can attach elastic or a hair tie that you will then wrap around your ears.

7. For securing the mask to your face, there are two things that will make the seal you get better. The first is sew a pipe cleaner into the top part of the mask, over where the nose part is. This will allow you to shape the mask to your face once you put it on.

The second is if you have some double sided skin safe tape, use this to go around the inner edges of your mask so that you can create a seal around your mouth and nose.

8. Wearing the mask! This is super important! You should place the mask on while you are still at home and you are certain that you have clean hands. Secure the mask before leaving and leave it in place – without touching it – for the entire time that you are out. Once you leave the house, a good rule of thumb is to assume that your mask and your hands have become contaminated with the virus. This means that you should not be touching the mask because you could accidentally infect yourself.

9. Taking the mask off. Once you have returned home or to another safe place, you can remove the mask. Do so carefully and do not touch the outside of the mask to your face. Remember it could have the virus on it. You can then lightly spray your mask with some 70% alcohol solution and/or leave it sitting out, dry, for at least 24 hours. The time the virus remains viable on cloth is not known, but you can see how long it remains on other common surfaces here. You can also remove the HEPA filter and wash the mask in the laundry.

These instructions are not medical advice and are just an example of one way that you might choose to follow the new recommendations set forth by the CDC to wear a cloth mask when going out. 

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

CAICE Outreach

Microbes Are Shaping What The Ocean Gives Back To Us

Written By: Lucia Cancelada, PhD Candidate @ UCSD

Imagine what lies beyond the ocean surface. 

I bet you are thinking about the big stuff: fish, dolphins, whales, coral reefs, maybe some algae here and there. To my surprise, I recently learned that the picture is way more complex than that. Rather than a huge pool of plain water, the ocean is an intricate network of living beings. 

Underwater scene.

Bacteria might be too small for us to see, but they are the most abundant marine organisms. Several times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, microbes live, reproduce and die in this gigantic habitat. Some bacterial species are more likely to be found in a particular area; while others are usually found together, perhaps because they mutually benefit from this relationship. Bacteria can form “neighborhoods” in the ocean, along with other microbes such as viruses, microscopic fungi, and protists. These incredibly complex communities, also called microbiomes, have captured the interest of many scientists worldwide.

Imagine now the waves breaking in the ocean. 

Every time the seawater crashes, tons of air bubbles are produced. Bubbles bursting onto the water surface “explode” and leave behind tiny droplets. Some of them, smaller than a grain of sand. These particles, also known as aerosols, may be suspended in the air for a long time. Sometimes even long enough to be transported far distances. 

Depending on the wind direction, aerosols can travel from the ocean to the land. What are these tiny particles made of? Or, in more scientific language, what is the composition of these aerosols? 

Wave crashing, creating aerosols.

Unsurprisingly, sea salt and water are the two main components of sea spray aerosol, but since the ocean contains more than just H2O and salt, we expect the aerosols to be more complex too.

Sugars, fats, and proteins are the building blocks of every organism and can also be found “swimming” in the seawater. Researchers have found all of these compounds in aerosols. Scientists have even found whole bacteria coming out of the sea via aerosols! And each unique bacterial ‘neighborhood’ or microbiome will produce its own type of aerosol, shaping what is coming out of the ocean like a unique fingerprint.

Now for the last time, imagine what we are dumping into the ocean everyday. 

Think about those plastic bags that get carried away by the wind and end up in the sea. Think about the chemical pollution, the oil spills… and unfortunately think about all the untreated wastewater that ends up in the ocean. 

When it rains, water pours onto land and eventually finds its way into rivers. This run-off water carries everything that it touches, including microorganisms and chemicals in sewage, as it moves towards the sea. Eventually, the rivers discharge into the ocean and mix all of this contaminated water into the ocean. 

“New” microorganisms that are introduced into the ocean by river runoff, or other human activity, can alter the preexisting microbiome and produce changes in the ecosystem below the ocean surface. It’s like these new microorganisms move into the bacterial neighborhood and start undesired demolitions and new construction. 

In addition, many chemical compounds also find their final destination in the sea, from personal care products to pharmaceuticals to pesticides. These pose a huge environmental problem: not only can it alter life and biodiversity, but it can even be hazardous for people living in coastal regions all over the world.

What are scientists doing about all this?

Since 2019, a group of researchers from UC San Diego has been working hard to figure out what is coming out of the ocean and into the air, how human activity is changing the coastal microbiome and if these changes pose hazardous consequences for people. This scientific project is based on the coast of San Diego, California, where untreated wastewater enters the Tijuana River Estuary and discharges into the sea. 

I joined the project in the Winter of 2020, as part of my research as a graduate student in the UC San Diego Chemistry & Biochemistry program. I must confess that, while I love chemistry, I don’t fancy the idea of spending my entire time in a laboratory. I, therefore, was very excited when the opportunity to work out in the field came along. Not only do we get to spend all day at the beach doing research, but I am also lucky to share this experience with other students in the program (and make some really good friends).

Every day doing fieldwork has been an intense yet rewarding experience. We usually go to different sites along the San Diego coast to take samples, trying to follow the changes in the water and the air. A couple of us go grab a bucket and collect water to fill our bottles and tubes. Sometimes we just stand at the end of the pier and attach the bucket to a rope to reach the water. Most of the time it is not that easy, and we have to go into the surf zone to take our sample, right where the waves are breaking. Although I love sampling, I honestly don’t like to get soaked, so we have to wear special suits or “waders” to go inside. 

Sampling the air is a completely different story, as you can’t just fill a bottle or a tube. To sample the air, we have deployed several pumps at these sites, which are constantly pulling in air as a vacuum cleaner would do. The air is forced to go through a filter that retains most of the particles found in the air, a.k.a. the aerosols. The pumps work for hours and hours and the aerosols released by the ocean deposit onto the filter. Back in the lab, we analyze both the water samples and the air filters to find out if harmful compounds or microbes are present.

Filters after aerosol collection. The grey/green circle in the center shows the aerosols retained by the filter after 24 hours.

Thanks to this project I was able to visit some cool parts of San Diego, such as the beautiful Imperial Beach, where the local community is really concerned about coastal pollution. Each time we go out in the field is exciting and different. You never know how the weather is going to be or which new place you are going to try for lunch. 

One of the coolest things about this research project is that it brings together scientists from many different backgrounds. Some of them are experts in biology and microbe communities, while others know a lot about molecules or have spent years researching the ocean. And a few of us are really new to all of this and are just enjoying this amazing learning experience. 

Acknowledgments: Ralph Torres for proofreading, Mallory Small & Adam Cooper for the pictures

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

CAICE Outreach

Los Microorganismos Dan Forma a lo que el Océano Nos Devuelve

Escrito por: Lucia Cancelada, Candidata a doctorado @ UCSD

Imagina lo que hay debajo de la superficie del océano.

Apuesto a que estás pensando en grande: peces, delfines, ballenas, arrecifes, tal vez algunas algas aquí y allá. Para mi sorpresa, hace poco aprendí que es mucho más complejo de lo que nos imaginamos. El océano no es solo una gran piscina llena de agua, sino más bien una intrincada red de seres vivos.

Escena submarina.

Aunque las bacterias son demasiado pequeñas para observarlas a simple vista, son los organismos marinos más abundantes. Varias veces más pequeños que el grosor de un cabello humano, viven, se reproducen y mueren en este gigantesco hábitat. Algunas de estas bacterias prefieren habitar en una determinada región del océano; incluso algunas especies siempre se encuentran juntas, tal vez porque se benefician mutuamente de esa relación. Las bacterias pueden formar comunidades increíblemente complejas, junto con virus, hongos microscópicos y protistas. Estas asociaciones, también llamadas microbiomas, han captado el interés de muchos científicos de todo el mundo.

Imagina ahora las olas rompiendo en el océano.

Con cada ola, se producen muchísimas burbujas de aire en la superficie. Estas burbujas “estallan” y dejan a su paso pequeñísimas gotas. Algunas incluso más pequeñas que un grano de arena. Estas partículas, también conocidas como aerosoles, pueden quedar suspendidas en el aire durante mucho tiempo. A veces, lo suficiente como para ser transportadas largas distancias.

Dependiendo de la dirección del viento, viajan desde el océano hacia las costas. Podríamos preguntarnos de qué están hechas estas partículas. O, en un lenguaje más científico, ¿cuál es la composición de estos aerosoles?

Ola rompiendo, creando aerosoles.

Sal y agua son sin duda los dos componentes principales, pero dado que el océano tiene algo más que eso, los aerosoles también pueden ser más complejos.

Azúcares, grasas y proteínas constituyen los componentes básicos de cada organismo y también se encuentran “nadando” en el agua de mar. De hecho, científicos han encontrado todos estos compuestos en aerosoles. ¡Incluso han encontrado bacterias enteras saliendo del mar como aerosoles! Cada comunidad de bacterias o microbioma producirá su propio tipo de aerosol, dando forma a aquello que el océano nos devuelve, como si fuera una marca única y especial.

Ahora, por última vez, imagina lo que estamos arrojando todos los días al océano.

Piensa en esas bolsas de plástico que se lleva el viento y terminan en el mar. Piensa en la contaminación, en los derrames de petróleo… y, desafortunadamente, en todas las aguas residuales sin tratar que también terminan allí.

Tanto las lluvias como las aguas de desecho se acumulan en los ríos. Esta agua transporta todo lo que toca, incluyendo microorganismos y productos químicos. Eventualmente, los ríos desembocan en el océano, mezclando su agua contaminada.

Microorganismos “extraños” son entonces introducidos en el mar, donde pueden alterar el microbioma preexistente y producir cambios en el ecosistema bajo la superficie. Además, muchos compuestos químicos también encuentran allí su destino final, desde productos para el cuidado personal hasta medicamentos y pesticidas. Esto representa un gran problema ambiental, que no solo puede afectar la biodiversidad, sino que incluso puede suponer un peligro para las personas de todo el mundo que viven en regiones costeras.

¿Qué estamos haciendo frente a este problema?

Desde 2019, un grupo de investigadores de la Universidad de California San Diego trabaja arduamente para descubrir qué es lo que se libera del océano hacia el aire, cómo la actividad humana está cambiando el microbioma marino y si esto trae consecuencias peligrosas para las personas. Este proyecto científico está basado en la costa de San Diego, California, donde las aguas residuales ingresan al estuario del río Tijuana y se descargan en el mar.

Como estudiante del doctorado en Química de UC San Diego, me uní a este proyecto en el invierno de 2020, para realizar parte de mi trabajo de investigación. Debo confesar que, aunque amo la química, no me gusta la idea de pasar todo mi tiempo en un laboratorio. Cuando surgió la oportunidad de realizar trabajo de campo, estaba tan emocionada que no lo dudé ni por un momento. Además de pasarnos todo el día en la playa investigando, también tengo la suerte de compartir esta experiencia con otros estudiantes de la universidad (y de hacer algunos muy buenos amigos).

Cada día de trabajo de campo es una experiencia intensa pero gratificante. Por lo general, nos trasladamos a diferentes sitios a lo largo de la costa de San Diego para tomar muestras, con el fin de estudiar los cambios en el agua y el aire. Con ayuda de un balde, recogemos agua del mar y llenamos nuestros tubos y botellas. A veces simplemente vamos al muelle y bajamos el balde atado a una soga para recolectar el agua. Sin embargo, la mayoría de las veces no es tan fácil y tenemos que adentrarnos en el mar para tomar nuestra muestra, justo ahí donde rompen las olas. Honestamente, no es muy divertido empaparse, así que tenemos que usar trajes especiales para entrar al agua.

Tomar muestras del aire es una historia completamente diferente, ya que no podemos simplemente llenar una botella o un tubo. Para recolectar estas muestras, tenemos colocadas varias bombas que constantemente succionan aire como lo haría una aspiradora. El aire es forzado a pasar a través de un filtro que retiene la mayoría de las partículas, o sea, los aerosoles. Las bombas funcionan durante horas y horas y los aerosoles liberados por el océano se van depositando en el filtro. De regreso en el laboratorio, analizamos tanto las muestras de agua como los filtros de aire para investigar si hay compuestos químicos o microorganismos que puedan ser dañinos.

Filtros luego de la recolección de aerosoles. El círculo de color gris/verde en el centro muestra los aerosoles retenidos después de 24 horas.

Gracias a este proyecto, pude visitar algunas partes muy interesantes de San Diego, como la apacible Imperial Beach, donde la comunidad local está muy preocupada por la contaminación costera. Salir a trabajar al campo es emocionante y diferente. Nunca se sabe cómo va a estar el clima ese día, o qué nuevo lugar vamos a probar para el almuerzo.

Una de las mejores cosas de este proyecto de investigación es que reúne a científicos de diversas disciplinas. Algunos de ellos son expertos en biología y microorganismos, mientras que otros saben mucho sobre moléculas o han pasado años investigando el océano. Y algunos de nosotros estamos transitando nuestros primeros pasos en la ciencia y disfrutamos de esta increíble experiencia de aprendizaje.

Agradecimientos: Ralph Torres por la revisión, Mallory Small y Adam Cooper por las fotos.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

CAICE Outreach

Becoming Aware of the Invisible – Why I Study Aerosols

Written By: Kyle Angle, PhD Candidate @ UCSD

I began my journey of studying aerosols without having any idea what they were. In my freshman year at Truman State studying organosulfates, I decided to do research because I thought it would look good on my resume. I chose to work for a couple of kind professors who happened to be studying organosulfates, which are compounds that have been detected in aerosols. At the time, aerosols themselves were not important to me, and I kept up with the project just from the excitement of doing something new.

Suds (left) and Kyle (right) pumping seawater into the waveflume

That summer I participated in a service trip to Guatemala. I worked with a team that brought food, vitamins, eyeglasses, and free medical consultations to parts of the country where there was great need. One thing I noticed was that many of the Guatemalans would come to their consultation complaining of lung pain. This likely came from their daily practice of cooking dinner as a family in an enclosed space without ventilation. In these circumstances, smoke would build up and over time cause them respiratory problems. Without access to any information about health, however, they had no way of knowing that their family tradition was the source of their pain. Several of the Guatemalans were also surprised that simply opening a window or door could help their situation greatly.

After returning to college, I started thinking more about the air we breathe. We cannot live without it, yet most of us take for granted that we will always have access to clean air. If there is an obvious sign of a problem, like a bad smell coming from an organic lab, we might think “Gosh, this place needs better ventilation!” But what happens next? Where do the bad smells from labs and the smoke from our cooking go?

So it turns out air is a lot more complicated than we think. In addition to its well-known components like oxygen and carbon dioxide, our atmosphere contains aerosols, which are tiny suspensions of solids and liquids in the air. Some aerosols contain organic compounds, like those that are ventilated from a lab. Others are composed of black carbon or soot from smoke. Now that I’m a graduate student at UCSD and located conveniently close to the ocean, I am studying a third kind, sea spray aerosols, which are the ones shot up into the air by the ocean waves. All of these and many other varieties of aerosols are important because they influence the climate and how much heat from the sun reaches the Earth’s surface.

Kyle teaching a few high school students how to use the CLEAR CAICE particle counter

For me, though, aerosols are important for another reason. When we talk about aerosols, we have to think about the air we breathe. The more we study and discuss them, the more people will start to become aware of how what they inhale impacts them. That’s why my research and education outreach are important to me. For my research, I am working with many other scientists in CAICE to study the acidity of sea spray aerosols. This is important because the acidity of these aerosols changes their impact on health, especially the lungs, and everyone who lives near the ocean breathes them in. As for outreach, I have participated in the CLEAR CAICE program, where we bring particle counters to high school students so they can design experiments that help them measure and become aware of aerosols in their everyday lives.

I hope for a world where everyone can be conscious of their environment and be informed enough to make simple changes that improve their health. And if I can contribute to that by spreading knowledge about the invisible particles floating all around us, then I can be confident that I am making a difference by working as a member of CAICE.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

CAICE Outreach

National Chemistry Week ‘All Hands-On’ Outreach Event @ UCSD!

CAICE graduate and undergraduate students (Suds, Samantha, Stephanie, & Charlotte) participated in the ‘All Hands-on’ outreach event held at UCSD to celebrate National Chemistry Week! 

Samantha, Stephanie and Suds get ready for the youth to start arriving!

We brought along with us some of the materials from the new ‘BriefCAICE’ traveling trunk, designed in partnership with the Climate Science Alliance, and the innovative CLEAR CAICE particle counter, designed right here at CAICE!

CAICE researchers investigate the fundamental processes of aerosols and how those processes affect the environment. One important impact that aerosols have on the environment is their importance in cloud formation. We taught the youth attending the event about the role of aerosols in cloud formation by creating a cloud in a bottle! 

You need three things to form a cloud: 

  1. Water
  2. Aerosol particles 
  3. Change in pressure  

We put a small amount of water in the bottle to meet requirement #1. We added some smoke from a match to meet requirement #2. We used a bike pump to increase the pressure in the bottle and then rapidly released the valve to meet requirement #3. 

The result is a beautiful cloud in a bottle! 

Event participants adding pressure into the bottle to make a cloud.

But that’s not all the aerosol science we shared with the youth at the event. 

We also discussed with them that there are particles in the air all around us even though we can’t see them. Using the CLEAR CAICE particle counter students could see a live feed of the number of particles in the air. 

Participants were encouraged to breath into the inlet tube, light a match near the tube, or sprinkle some chalk dust near the tube and observe the change in the number of fine and coarse particles. 

Looking at just how many particles are in 1 cubic foot of air!

Participants also made their own particle collectors, using paper and tape. Using these simple particle collectors they can investigate different environments in their home or at school! They become scientists exploring the aerosols in the environments around them. 

Two young scientists making their own particle collectors.

It was a wonderful way to celebrate National Chemistry Week and engage the next generation of STEM leaders in some fun and educational science! 

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

CAICE Summer 2020

CAICE Summer Undergraduate Research Applications NOW OPEN!

The opportunity to bring interested undergraduates into CAICE research projects is one of the most exciting times of the year here at CAICE.

Every summer, students from across the country join CAICE researchers to study how aerosols are impacting the chemistry of our environment. Students join one of the several CAICE research locations and will have a graduate student mentor to guide their research.

All interested undergraduates are encouraged to apply. We especially encourage women, underrepresented groups, veterans and those who attend a community college or technical college to apply. This opportunity is open to all.

The application window is open from October 1st 2019 until 5pm PST on February 29th 2020.

Apply Now –> Click here.

Benefits & Details

  • Mentoring from top CAICE faculty, postdocs & graduate students in the CAICE network
  • Placement in a CAICE lab site (lab placements are available across the U.S.)
  • Conduct exciting hands-on scientific research
  • 8-10 week program (dates to be determined by lab placement site)
  • Preparation for graduate school, attend field trips & symposiums
  • Presentation of your research results to other students and faculty at conclusion of program
  • Receive a minimum stipend of $5000
  • Reimbursement for out of town travel costs (up to $500)
  • Housing for full program duration

Who Should Apply?

  • Application open to undergraduates with an interest in chemistry who would like to participate in cutting edge CAICE research
  • Women, students from underrepresented groups, and military veterans are strongly encouraged to apply
  • Students from community colleges are encouraged to apply
  • Priority will be given to current 2nd and 3rd year undergraduates
  • Open to U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents only

Application Instructions

1. Please review the links to the CAICE faculty advisers and their labs below and choose your 1st and 2nd lab choices

2. Fill out the application below or click here for the link.

  • This will include a personal statement, statement of interest, and contact information for a recommendation letter

3. After you submit your application, an email will be sent to your selected reference/recommendation writer asking them to fill out a form on your behalf. Please follow up with them to make sure they do so

4. After your letter writer completes their form, you will receive a confirmation email letting you know and also confirming that your application is complete!

Important Notes:

  • The deadline to submit your Application Form and the Recommendation Form is February 29, 2020, otherwise your application will be considered incomplete
  • Accepted participants will be notified in March 2020

CAICE Labs Available for Summer 2020:

Application for 2020 –> click here

Questions? Contact: Jeanette McConnell – Education, Outreach, and Diversity Coordinator:

Flyer for the program. Please share with those you think might be interested.


Where The Air Meets the Sea

Written By: Sarah Amiri

Walking in to the H-Lab at Scripps is like walking in to an enormous wooden spacecraft.

With a flume stretched across the floorplan filled with thousands of liters of coastal seawater.  This mesocosm is surrounded by an almost unearthly network of sophisticated analytical machines specialized in better understanding atmospheric chemistry as it relates to air-sea exchange.  Or more simply, how the ocean interacts with the air to influence atmospheric processes. 

I’m climbing up the stairs to get a synoptic view of the scene.  It’s chaotic, loud, buzzing and electric.

On the left, I see the flume’s paddle making the iconic sinusoidal wave pattern across the suite of experiments I pass by each morning, then my eyes scan the artificial beach used to break the waves to make sea spray.  The seeds for aerosols and cloud condensation nuclei. 

Hydraulics Laboratory @ Scripps Institute of Oceanography

It turns out that the transport of sea spray is significant for the exchange between the sea and the atmosphere and the organic material it ejects.  As someone who is pursuing experiments with research questions centered on chemical oceanography, I often think of biological material being exported down to depth or laterally advected across the coastal and global ocean.  With all the mesoscale processes that this includes. 

However, I now think of the ocean more like our P.I. Dr. Kimberly Prather does: With an allegorical arrow pointing up out of the waves and in to the clouds.  Signatures of the sea up there, volatile and roaming.

Illustration of airborne microbes

I walk back down the stairs and head towards the right panel of the flume where our team is running samples on a benzene cluster cation chemical ionization time of flight mass spectrometer that will look at gases in the seawater using a cryo purge and trap. 

We lovingly call this mass spec, Clifford. It has its own good luck candle with instructions to keep it alive in the event of an apocalypse.  Of course it does.

Our team is primarily interested in the types of trace volatile gasses that phytoplankton and bacterioplankton can produce and get released into the lower atmosphere (after a series of production and consumption pathways). 

This can have larger effects on increasing albedo that can lead to a climate cooling, or to the release of deleterious trace gasses that can lead to ozone depletion in the stratosphere.  To better understand how these nuanced processes works, I now look under the green saltwater line of the wave flume where the marine biota lives.  

Phytoplankton are sometimes referred to as micro algae and fix carbon with light to make energy. 

They interact with other phytoplankton, bacteria, archaea, and viruses to make big impacts on Earth.  Sometimes this interaction is a war zone.  Other times, it’s like exchanging ingredients amongst friends to share a meal.  It’s the ultimate competition and exchange under the waves for nutrients, light, trace metals, vitamins and a space to grow.  In the open ocean it can be more like a daily recycling ritual, or uneventful until a pulse of nutrients or iron deposition feed phytoplankton and bacterioplankton blooms that provide an assortment of options for protists and viruses to feast on.  Sometimes viruses can wipe out a whole population of phytoplankton within a single day.  You can see it from space.  If you’ve ever seen the iconic NASA images of seemingly swirling turquoise water color paintings from ocean color satellites, you are probably seeing a massive coccolithophore bloom.  A whole group of phytoplankton taxa that can calcify tiny plates or coccoliths that make them look like small rotund chalk spheres. 

NASA image of coccolithophore bloom (in turquoise) near a diatom bloom (darker green) and sediments (yellow brown)

This group of phytoplankton is also known to contribute to a significant pool of dimethyl sulfide (DMS) from the sea to the air, where this eventually serves as a source of sulfate for cloud condensation nuclei.  It turns out many other phytoplankton taxa can make DMS and numerous bacterioplankton can cleave the more abundant DMSP to DMS or make it as well.  Biological sulfur chemistry is a cryptic, tendrilled and a non-linear series of step-wise functions. This also holds true for many other VOCs or volatile organic compounds in the ocean coming from the biology of the surface ocean to the deep sea.  Making it a tough thing to measure. There are a myriad of biotic and abiotic processes and mechanisms affecting trace gas chemistry in the ocean at any given time, making it particularly difficult to constrain. However, it makes it all more worthwhile to study when thinking about the pool of these biologically derived gasses from the oceans to the atmosphere as it relates to climate change. 

A fractional representation of the types of VOCs phytoplankton and bacterioplankton can make.

Ah, climate change.  A topic that would be myopic to avoid when talking about the oceans.  A massive body of saltwater that has buffered much of the anthropogenic brunt.  Only for so long. 

How long?  What phytoplankton and bacterioplankton taxa will be affected?  Which ones will be resilient to regional changes? What gasses will they make that will offset or onset the process further? What about the bacterioplankton?  These are the questions I am left with at the end of each day when I leave the H-lab.  These are the questions that we all ought to think about when considering their invisible role over cycling key elements we depend on.

Where ½ of the oxygen on earth comes from these micro algae, we must ask ourselves how comfortable we are with changing Earth’s biogeochemistry if these tiny but mighty drivers decline in certain regions or change in global community composition in others.

More importantly, their interaction with the microbial majority on Earth is also a major black box that must be further explored when thinking of biological roles on atmospheric processes.  This is where experiments like CAICE’s SeaScape help us all better understand how a warming and stressed ocean will interact and connect with the atmosphere and affect global air-sea exchange rates.  And future missions like the upcoming NASA PACE satellite that will measure phytoplankton and aerosols/ clouds from space can also benefit from.  Eventually paving a data pathway where humans can better understand, adjust, and care about the oceans outstanding role on the climate.  

Illustration by Sarah Amiri of phytoplankton community structure across the wave flume in the H-Lab.

Written by: Sarah Amiri, UCSB Assistant Researcher

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Down the Tube: A Two-Part Story of Characterizing Marine VOCs

Written By: Delaney Kilgour (Upper Section) & Margaux R.E. Winter (Lower Section)

When you roll down your car windows after a long drive to the beach, what are your first reactions? Do you listen to the waves crash, feel the humid air, or take in the smells? Can you taste the salt in the air? Do you ever know you’re at the beach because, for some reason, it just smells like the beach? Well, it turns out, that characteristic “beach smell” is created by a complex mixture of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by microorganisms living in the ocean. What is commonly referred to as the smell of the beach comes from sulfur-containing compounds, specifically.

VOCs are emitted by phytoplankton and bacteria that live in the ocean in response to various environmental and biological activities. The most well-studied marine biogenic VOCs include dimethyl sulfide (DMS), isoprene, and monoterpenes. Once emitted, evaporation processes at the air-sea interface can cause these gases to be emitted into the atmosphere, where the gases can then be further aged by oxidation processes to form secondary marine aerosols. These aerosols affect cloud formation, and thus have the capacity to greatly affect our climate.

From Left to Right: Margaux Winter and Delaney Kilgour in front of the Vocus PTR-MS in the Hydraulics Lab
(courtesy of @bertramlab Instagram page)

During SeaSCAPE, Margaux and I study these VOCs emitted at the air-sea interface. We are using a chemical ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometer to measure the gases that are emitted over the course of an induced phytoplankton bloom. One of our primary goals is to characterize a variety of gas emissions, in addition to well-studied gases like DMS, to understand how the gas emission profile varies in response to biological processes in the ocean and how the emission of different gasses relates to the suite of aerosol particles produced.

We work closely with two other teams of researchers (namely Jon Sauer and Alexia Moore from the Prather group at UC San Diego and Emily Barnes from the Goldstein group at UC Berkeley) that also measure VOCs. As a group, we sample from the headspace of the wave flume, in addition to two separate chambers that circulate wave flume water through large, cylindrical glass tubes. Because we all use different instruments with improved sensitivities for certain classes of molecules, our hope is that we can combine our collective data from the various instruments and sampling locations to form a more complete profile of gas emissions during the bloom.

As SeaSCAPE comes to a close, I feel very lucky to have been able to participate in such a large-scale, collaborative experiment during my first year of graduate school. While I was nervous about the intensity of this experiment and working away from my lab in Madison, I quickly realized that everyone here was invested in helping each other and making sure the experiment as a whole was the best possible. I look forward to continuing to work together in the future and for all of our exciting findings.

Similar to many of the undergraduate interns at CAICE, SeaSCAPE has been my first experience on a field campaign. Having studied VOCs and aerosols in two labs prior, I thought I had some baseline as what to expect out of my experiences in the Hydraulics Lab at Scripps Institute of Oceanography (SIO). Of course, past lab and course work familiarized me with the material, but working through CAICE at SIO has been an experience all its own.

In contrast with the sterile, fluorescent environment of my organic chemistry laboratory courses, or the secluded basement that serves as our experimentation space where I work in the Keutsch group, the Hydraulics Lab is of a vastly different nature. The first time walking into the space was overwhelming. The tall, sloping ceiling is reminiscent of a cathedral, or an overturned ark. Despite the few windows, sunlight streams in through the loading dock doors, which are kept open during the day, when the phytoplankton are allowed to fully photosynthesize. Simply arriving in the building, the presence of SeaSCAPE, and the immediacy of the work cannot be overlooked.

Of course, this feeling isn’t generated exclusively from the physical space. Defining my experience at CAICE was the omnipresent and continual collaboration among researchers across different groups. The work demands it.

Photo by Riaan Myburgh on Unsplash

Not only must the three different gas-phase instrumentation teams work together to compare measurements, but if we are interested in seeing how these gasses inform aerosol production we must be in constant communication with everyone working on particle sizing and counting. No matter how much work any one person puts into the quality of their data collection, of equal or perhaps even more importance is the ability of this data to be shared and productively utilized in collaboration with data collected by other groups. Information must be efficiently shared and cross-analyzed each day – sometimes a significant challenge if your own data collection isn’t running smoothly.

So yes, the work demands collaboration, and at CAICE, that collaboration is given freely. Never before I have I been in an environment when so many people are required to work together, and where scientists of different backgrounds and with various skill sets are so willing to give their time and intellectual capacity to all those around them. There is a visceral sense that the work at CAICE is greater than the sum of its parts. Every person in the Hydraulics Lab is committed to the success of the project, and to that end, every person is committed to making the most out of their work, by also making the most out of the work of others.

As the summer comes to a close, I am able to reflect on my experience at CAICE. Of course, the engaged training and education in the field of atmospheric chemistry that I have received is irreplaceable. Learning how to use a Vocus PTR-MS and getting hands-on experience every single day in lab solidified my interest in the field of atmospheric chemistry, augmented what I learn in my school-year course work, and accentuated my ongoing commitment to research.

In the coming weeks, I am incredibly excited to synthesize the research Delaney and I have conducted this summer into a final presentation, and to share the work done here with non-CAICE affiliates when I return to Cambridge in the fall. However, one of the notable takeaways of my experience is the capacity for science to function collaboratively and around the clock. Attempts to answer large-scale, interdisciplinary questions, such as the ones presented at CAICE require the kind of work ethic and ingenuity that I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by this summer. Bringing a group of dedicated workers together provides the groundwork for action, and I hope to bring this sentiment into my work in the upcoming school year and as I continue my efforts in chemistry in the Keutsch group and in my future graduate studies.

Written by: Delaney Kilgour, Graduate Student in the Bertram Research Group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Margaux R.E. Winter, Undergraduate Student in the Keutsch Group at Harvard University

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Sizing Up the Situation

If you’ve never read the whimsically titled Tale of Two Blooms paper that covered key findings from the IMPACTS (Investigation in Marine PArticle Chemistry and Transfer Science) wave flume campaign CAICE undertook five years ago, do yourself a favor and look through it. For an undergraduate like me, the article was recommended reading for the Summer Undergraduate Research Program, so I took a look at it on a slow day at my lab back home. I found myself in admiration of the scope of the project, amazed by the rich variety of data collected, and overwhelmed by how densely packed the article was with information. To me, it almost seemed like all the bits and pieces of IMPACTS fell together perfectly and produced this paper. I went into SeaSCAPE expecting smooth sailing.

Of course, any researcher knows better.

Chi-Min Ni (left) and Cristina Bahaveolos (right) performing daily maintenance 
on the sizing instruments. Photo: Erik Jepsen / UC San Diego Publications

Indeed, I’ve come to understand what Gil Nathanson, my PI back home, meant when he talked about being “exposed to many of the agonies and ecstasies of research.” This story begins with “Sizing Island”, a dense cluster of fifteen or so instruments located near the wave flume’s sampling ports. On this Island you can find multiple SMPS (Scanning Mobility Particle Sizers), APS (Aerodynamic Particle Sizers), and CCN (Cloud Condensation Nuclei) Counters. The SMPS and APS together can size particles ranging between 3 nm and 10 μm, while the CCN counters gauge how well water condenses onto aerosol particles, a process that governs cloud formation in the atmosphere. Not all aerosols can act as cloud condensation nuclei, and their activity is governed by both their size and composition. These characteristics can then impact cloud properties such as their lifetime and ability to reflect incoming radiation (also known as albedo). These measurements are important as aerosol impact on cloud formation is one of the largest uncertainties in our understanding of climate change.

One of our main tasks is performing daily maintenance checks on these instruments, which includes making sure the instruments are pulling the correct flow rates or leak testing the instruments, as well as changing the silica gel dryers that dessicate aerosols from the wave flume. These checks keep Sizing Island running smoothly and allow us to identify any instruments that may need troubleshooting to generate the best measurements possible.

Catherine Mullenmeister (left) and Margaux Winter (right) conversing
 near the the Secondary Marine Aerosol Dome 2.0. Photo: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

To muddy the waters further, we sample three different forms of aerosols. First, in our nascent aerosol line we are sampling aerosols in real time directly from the headspace of the wave channel in order to reduce the effects of any secondary processes. In our heterogenous aerosol line, we take nascent aerosols and gaseous molecules partitioning off the water and oxidize them in an Oxidative Flow Reactor, which simulates aging of particles in the atmosphere by •OH radicals. Finally, our secondary marine aerosol line solely samples gases partitioning off the water inside a dome and oxidizes them in another Oxidative Flow Reactor. Oxidized gases aggregate and condense to form “secondary marine aerosols”. We size all three of these aerosol types, allowing us to compare and contrast their size distributions, as well as see how these distributions change as biological activity in the flume swells and wanes. The CCN counters also take in these aerosols, which lets us study the ability of these different forms of aerosols to act as cloud nuclei for forming cloud droplets. 

Did you get all of that? It’s gonna be on the test next week. But back to those “agonies and ecstasies.” It took a lot of trial and error to get used to performing the dozens of maintenance checks we’re in charge of, as well as multiple drafts for our standard operating procedures. We’ve come a long way from being lost among a sea of instruments to keeping watch over Sizing Island. Of course, there are still hiccups, like when instruments malfunction or when data logging programs crash, but we can’t expect everything to run perfectly all the time. I like to think of our experience working on Sizing Island as a microcosm of SeaSCAPE as a whole: iterative troubleshooting has created successes out of woes. Just as we’ve gone through various approaches to maintenance, the wave flume has gone through multiple fillings, each with its own quirks. We rinse and repeat (literally, in the wave flume’s case!), and step closer day by day to a better understanding of the chemistry and biology of sea spray.

We would like to end by sending a special thank you to our mentors Kathryn Mayer and Chris Cappa who shared their knowledge with us and provided their guidance throughout this summer experiment.  We would also like to acknowledge Kim Prather, CAICE, and NSF for the opportunity to contribute to this experiment and learn from our experiences here at SeaSCAPE.

Written by: Chi-Min Ni, Undergraduate Student, UW-Madison
Catherine Mullenmeister, Undergraduate Student, UC San Diego
Cristina Bahaveolos, Undergraduate Student, UW-Madison

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).